2012-03-23 "Eureka to appeal Cotton verdict; Attorney: 'Judge's ruling is incredibly inaccurate'" by Thadeus Greenson from "The Eureka Times-Standard"
Eureka will appeal a more than $4.5 million federal jury award against the city in a wrongful death suit stemming from the 2007 in-custody death of Martin Frederick Cotton II.
Nancy Delaney, a local attorney who represented Eureka and its officers in the suit, said Thursday that the city's insurance carriers have given the go-ahead to appeal the case after a U.S. Court judge recently issued a ruling denying the city's motion seeking a retrial in the case.
”We have official authorization, and it will be proceeding to appeal,” Delaney said. “We think the judge's ruling is incredibly inaccurate.”
A federal jury found that Eureka Police Department officers used excessive force against Cotton, 26, during a violent altercation that preceded his death on Aug. 9, 2007, and awarded more than $4.5 million in total damages to Cotton's father and daughter. Shortly after the ruling, the city of Eureka filed a motion seeking to have the judgment stayed and have a new trial held in the case.
In a 41-page written ruling filed with the court last week, U.S. District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong denies the city's motion on all fronts and offers her opinion that the jury relied on “overwhelming evidence and testimony establishing that (EPD) officers (Adam) Laird, (Justin) Winkle and (Gary) Whitmer viciously beat (Cotton) with their fists, knee strikes, kicks and baton strikes” in finding that Winkle and Laird used excessive force on Cotton and that all three officers were “deliberately indifferent” to Cotton's medical needs when they booked him into jail without first having him medically treated for his injuries.
While local officials characterized Cotton as being combative and violent with the officers, Armstrong states in her ruling that testimony in the case indicates that he was being noncompliant but was not using force against the officers, attempting to flee or resisting.
EPD Interim Police Chief Murl Harpham said shortly after the jury's verdict that his officers were “wronged,” adding that they are “kind” men, noting that Winkle was named “Officer of the Year” in 2007 and Laird was promoted to sergeant in 2011.
”They're just good people, and they wouldn't do what's been claimed here out of viciousness or anything like that,” Harpham said, adding that his officers were in a “knock-down, drag out” with a very violent suspect under the influence of a large amount of LSD.
Eureka's insurance carrier -- the Redwood Empire Municipal Insurance Fund (REMIF) -- has made the bulk of the decisions regarding the handling of the case for the city but, because the amount of the jury award in the case exceeds the REMIF's level of exposure, the fund's excess insurance carriers made the decision to appeal the jury's verdict, Delaney said.
Because Eureka has already spent the entire amount of its insurance coverage deductible on the case, the city's general fund will not be impacted by the jury award in the case.
Eureka has until April 16 to file its appeal and will have to file a bond of $5.7 million -- 125 percent of the jury award -- in order to do so.